The 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Headline from the 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

In February of 1929, The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, Dame Patricia Routledge - better known as Hyacinth Bucket on "Keeping Up Appearances" - was born in Tranmere, England, the first Academy Awards were announced... and many of the top figure skaters in America competed in the 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The competition was held on February 18 and 19 of that year at Madison Square Garden in New York City and organized by the Skating Club Of New York.

Six competitors vied for the junior women's title. Dr. Hulda Berger, a respected dentist from New York, led the field with first place votes from four of the five judges after the school figures. Though she skated well in the free skate, she lost the title for the second year in a row... this time to Evelyn Chandler, the wife of Bruce Mapes. The bronze medal went to Grace Madden of Newton, Massachusetts. Building upon a strong lead in the figures with a fine free skate, George 'Geddy' Hill of Cambridge, Massachusetts easily took the gold in the junior men's event ahead of Joseph K. Savage of New York and Brooklyn's William Nagle and Robert Reed. In their sixth attempt, Dorothy Weld and Richard L. Hapgood finally won the U.S. junior pairs title. In a show of fine sportsmanship, Hapgood - who penned the report about the U.S. Championships in "Skating" magazine - downplayed his own success in order to praise the efforts of the team who finished second, Ethel Bijur and Bedell H. Harned. He intimated that had Harned not had a bad cold the day of the competition, he and Ethel would have surely won.

The judges had their work cut out for them in the pairs event. The top three teams each exhibited three completely different styles of skating, and thusly - the judges had a hard time coming to an agreement. Though Maribel Vinson and Thornton Coolidge - the defending champions - managed to reclaim their title with three first place ordinals, they were actually had just over one point more than the runners-up, Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles. Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage, who finished third, had a first place ordinal of their own and weren't far behind. However, the fourth place team - Delores De Pierce and George Braakman of New York - were a pretty distant fourth.
The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted that Vinson and Coolidge "excelled in speed, executed their figures in perfect unison and then produced a number of rhythmic movements that were judged of the highest type."

Sadly, the event marked the fourth consecutive year that the fours title wasn't contested at the U.S. Championships. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood bemoaned, "It is to be deplored that so little interest is taken in this branch of skating."

At the 1928 USFSA Annual Meeting, the Dance Committee drafted rules for a new format for ice dance competitions, to be tested at the 1929 U.S. Championships. This format combined the traditional waltz contest format - where teams skated both in a group and on their own - with an Original Dance competition, where teams devised their own dances. The rules for the Original Dance were as such:

1. Only one dance would be allowed (a Fourteenstep variation) and it had to be suitable for simultaneous dancing ie. several couples on the ice at the same time, although only one couple would present a dance at a time
2. It would start from a standstill, not entering or finishing figures.
3. It must have continuity of motion and the character of a dance.
4. While underarm and back-to-back turns are allowed, real separating figures are barred.
5. Either waltz (closed) or side-by-side positions may be used, or both.
6. The sequence of steps must be completed at least twice (limited to 1 1/2 minutes).
7. Couples could choose their own music provided due notice was given.
8. Jumps and lifts were not considered appropriate for dancing.

In the Original Dance, couples were judged on difficulty, originality and construction of the dance, teamwork and surety and power, carriage and rhythm or timing. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood noted, "Naturally, as would be expected in a new type of contest, judges and contestants alike were somewhat at sea. All the couples had interesting dances to offer, which were for the most part the working out of individual ideas on the problem, and the result was that the judges differed in their opinions quite as much as the contestants."

Interestingly, Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage unanimously won the Dance title in 1929... on the basis of their unanimous win in the Waltz. Only one judge (Ferrier T. Martin) placed Secord and Savage first in the Original Dance. Another judge tied Secord and Savage with Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles, while two placed Weld and Niles first. A fifth judge had Clara Rotch Frothingham and Roger Turner, who placed dead last overall, first in the Original Dance.

If the Dance competition in New York City in 1929 hadn't been clear cut, the senior women's was something of a landslide victory. Showing much improvement over her efforts the year prior when she'd won her first U.S. title, Maribel Vinson dominated the women's event from start to finish to easily defend her title. Edith Secord of New York was unanimously second and Suzanne Davis of Boston unanimously third. One judge, former U.S. medallist Lillian Cramer, was so impressed by Vinson's efforts that she awarded her over fifteen more points than Secord. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Miss Vinson is only sixteen years old but has been an actual competitor in amateur figure skating ranks for twelve years, having been initiated into the graceful but difficult art at 4 years of age by her father, who was a famous figure skater some years ago. The execution of the Jackson [Haines] spin, which is named for the man credited with developing the modern American school figure skating, by Miss Vinson was the outstanding factor in her performance, yet she displayed a well-rounded program, showing great speed and accuracy in both the figures and the free skating, in which she brought forth a number of startling new figures."

James Madden, Frederick Goodridge and Roger Turner at the 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
James Madden, Frederick Goodridge and Roger Turner at the 1929 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Defending champion Roger Turner of Boston amassed an impressive lead in the school figures even though Richard L. Hapgood noted they were "not the best of which he his capable". He received three first place ordinals for his free skating and managed to defend his title four judges to one over Frederick Goodridge. James Madden and Dr. Walter Langer, who finished third and fourth, each received a first place ordinal in free skating. Madden's performance included the competition's only Axel jump. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Turner displayed a skill that won rounds of applause from the gallery. His form was declared to be as nearly flawless as any seen in recent title events. This was especially true in the school figures. His spins were remarkable and the complete assurance with which he ran through the figures attracted the eyes of the crowd as well as the judges."

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